A brief history of m4/3 cameras

In a little more than four years, Olympus and Panasonic have managed to turn out more than 22 distinct camera models.  What follows is a brief summary of the highlights (and lowlights) of each model:

Date Model Comments
9/2008 Panasonic G1 Looking and handling like a mini-DSLR, the G1 had the distinction of being the first of the new breed of compact mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. The G1’s fast CDAF autofocus and EVF showed immediately that it was not simply a compact camera on steroids. It also developed a following for its ability to use almost any legacy lens (with an adapter).
4/2009 Panasonic GH1 The GH1 took the G1 and added a new sensor optimized for video. It wasn’t the first video-enabled camera, but it offered better controls and quality than most of its competitors, especially when combined with the new 14-140mm (28-280mm equivalent) ‘HD’ lens.
7/2009 Olympus E-P1 The first digital Pen offered a classic rangefinder ‘look’ and excellent image quality, but was hampered by slow autofocus, troublesome controls, a poor rear LCD, no built-in flash and no EVF. In spite of these drawbacks and a high initial price, the E-P1 won more than its share of fans among those looking for a stylish compact camera capable of producting good images.
8/2009 Panasonic GF1 Panasonic’s take on the ‘modern’ rangefinder used the same internals as the G1, in a compact body. It lost the twisting LCD and EVF of the G1, but gained video and a popular new kit lens – the diminutive 20mm f/1.7 pancake. The GF1 also included a connector for the optional external LVF1 EVF, though unfortunately the LVF1’s low resolution limited its usefulness.
11/2009 Olympus E-P2 Aside from changing the standard kit color to black, the only real difference between the E-P2 and E-P1 was the addition of a connector for the optional VF2 external EVF. The VF2 offered a high-resolution flicker free image, albeit for a substantial price. The E-P1’s other flaws went unaddressed, though a later firmware update helped somewhat with autofocus performance.
2/2010 Olympus E-PL1 For the most part, the E-PL1 removed features from the E-P2, serving as Olympus’s budget model. It used a cheaper plastic body, did away with both control dials, and lost options for higher ISO and shutter speed. Image quality however was slightly better, autofocus speed improved, and a built-in flash was added. Most importantly, the lower price attracted a host of new users eager to get DSLR quality images from a compact camera (though many found the controls and the kit 14-42mk1 lens frustrating).
3/2010 Panasonic G2 The G2 took the G1’s body and added video and a touchscreen (for changing settings) to it, as well as improving on its notoriously poor defaults for JPEG output. It was also the first Panasonic m4/3 body to allow autofocus with all regular 4/3 lenses, not just the ones supporting CDAF.
3/2010 Panasonic G10 Almost identical to the above G2, the G10’s only changes were the use of a much lower quality EVF and the removal of the touchscreen. Naturally, it came with a lower price tag.
9/2010 Panasonic GH2 Externally the GH2 had little to distinguish itself from the GH1. Internall was another story. Video was the official focus of the GH2, but it proved a credible contender for photography as well. The new 16MP sensor provided excellent 1080p video quality (only the 2x pricier Canon 5D2 proved competitive) as well as a nice boost in dynamic range and low-light (noise) performance. The GH2 sold well to videographers and photographers alike.
11/2010 Panasonic GF2 Nominally the successor the Panasonic GF1, the GF2 added a touchscreen but removed a number of buttons and controls and shrunk the body somewhat. Image quality was identical to the GF1. Existing users had little to entice them, but the GF2 did attract some interest at the entry-level.
11/2010 Olympus E-PL1s Released only in Japan, the E-PL1s added back the ISO 6400 option that the E-PL1 had removed, and replaced the 14-42mk1 with the new 14-42mk2 which proved both sturdier and dramatically faster at focusing.
1/2011 Olympus E-PL2 A solid upgrade to the E-PL1, the E-PL2 addressed most of the complaints about its predecessor, even bettering the E-P2 in a number of areas. The E-PL2 added back the missing controls on the E-PL1 including one control wheel, stuck a textured grip on the front, improved AF speed, replaced the kit 14-42mk1 with the newer faster-focusing sibling and substantially upgraded the quality of the rear LCD. A high initial price and the introduction of newer models relatively soon after help explain it’s relatively limited adoption.
5/2011 Panasonic G3 Panasonic tried a different approach with the G3 than the G2, shrinking the grip, removing several buttons and adding a new 16MP sensor, different from the one in the GH2. While not as capable as its higher-priced sibling in video, it offered comparable image quality for photos, which is to say considerably better than all other m4/3 bodies at the time. The ergonomics changes received mixed reviews however, and the camera never quite seemed to get the attention it deserved.
6/2011 Panasonic GF3 In the interest of further slimming down the GF-series, Panasonic removed the hotshoe and EVF connector from the GF2, producing the smallest (and lightest) m4/3 camera yet. Sold in a kit with the new 14/2.5 (also the smallest lens available for m4/3), it gained a lot of attention on account of its size, and seemed to sell well in Asian markets. In the US and North America, it did less well.
6/2011 Olympus E-P3 People reacted in decidedly different ways to the long-awaited successor of the E-P2. For some, it was the ultimate m4/3 camera with all the advantages and none of the flaws of the E-P2 – autofocus was faster, controls were improved, the kit lens replaced, a built-in flash added and the low-resolution 230k LCD replaced with a bright 614k OLED touchscreen. Others expressed severe disappointment at the high price-tag and lack of improvements in basic image quality (sensor was essentially the same as the one on the E-P1).
8/2011 Olympus E-PL3 Released alongside the E-P3, the Pen ‘Lite’ as it was called was the middle model. It feature simplified controls, a thinner body, and tilting but non-touch sensitive LCD. It also replaced the built-in flash with a tiny external unit. The tilting screen gained it some following, but it was significantly less popular than the upscale E-P3 or the bargain-priced E-PM1.
8/2011 Olympus E-PM1 As the newest member of the Olympus lineup, the Pen ‘Mini’ provided the internals of the E-P3 in a thin, stripped-down body. While it featured few buttons (but one control wheel) and no real grip, the E-PM1’s combination of small size, fast performance and low price convinced many to go with it.
11/2011 Panasonic GX1 GF1 fans at last received a true upgrade in the GX1. Featuring the G3’s sensor in a solid metal rangefinder-style body, the GX1 also improvde autofocus and high ISO performance from the G3. To the GF1, it added a handgrip and a new EVF connector for the optional LVF2 external EVF, which had far better resolution than the earlier LVF1. The new 14-42X pancake zoom also attracted attention for its tiny size.
2/2012 Olympus E-M5 Taking another page from their history, Olympus chose to release their first m4/3 body with a built-in viewfinder in the style of their OM series SLRs. The E-M5 also featured a new 16MP sensor, later known to be manufactured by Sony, finally giving them an edge over Panasonic in terms of image quality. The E-M5 also included weather-sealing and a new ‘5-axis’ stabilization system. Despite a relatively high price and some initial quality-control questions, the E-M5 was quite successful, selling out and remaining virtually impossible to obtain for months after the initial launch.
4/2012 Panasonic GF5 Panasonic avoided the unpopular ‘4’ numeral replacing the GF3 with the GF5. The upgrade promised a higher resolution touchscreen, faster autofocus and improved performance at higher ISO in JPEGs, but kept the same aging 12MP sensor.
8/2012 Panasonic G5 Apparently reacting to user unhappiness with the G3’s ergonomics, Panasonic added back the handgrip and even enlarged it some. Compared to the G3, it also gained a better LCD (like the GF5), several more buttons, an updated 16MP sensor that proved a direct descendant of the GH2’s and a variety of other little improvements.
9/2012 Olympus E-PL5 With the decision not to upgrade the E-P3, the E-PL5 became at least temporarily the top of Olympus’s Pen series. The E-PL5 received the E-M5’s newer 16MP sensor and processing, several new buttons and upgraded the tilting LCD to an almost fully articulating touchscreen.
9/2012 Olympus E-PM2 Internally the same as the E-PL5, the E-PM2’s only real difference appears to be the LCD (fixed, not articulating) and the lack of a couple of buttons.
9/2012 Panasonic GH3 The latest of Panasonic’s video-oriented GH-series has put on a considerably amount of weight. Along with the weight comes a new 16MP sensor, supposedly different from the GH2’s capable of extremely high quality video. The GH3 also received weather-sealing and the option of a vertical grip.